El Toppo borrows precious little from Alejandro Jodorowsky's wildly fantastic Western of the same name, a gun-slingin' cinematic nightmare with a cast of midgets and amputees. Not that it should. What you get instead is a succinct, catchy and likable album -- the followup to 1999's debut Dead Letter Chorus -- that finds South London's fuzzy, guitar-based outfit turning over the soil of a softer-sounding acoustic grunge. The Llamas share memories with the Byrds and needles with Nirvana. And despite all the dirty minor power chords, spasmodic racket and brother/sister harmonies, they expand upon altern-o's tired collegiate formula with impressive results.
"Snow White" has all the indie allure that a hit single should: scorch 'n' fury, stop/start rhythm, double entendres and the gratuitous, can't-miss hand-clap track. "Flat on my back again, Snow White," singer Bernie Simpson sneers without so much as a knowing glance thrown in Doc or Dopey's direction. In a strange way, his voice resembles that of King Missile's John S. Hall -- if Hall ever set aside his deadpan shtick and (perish the thought!) actually tried to sing. "Ear the C" scores with the same approach and even more pointless lyrics ("Get out of here" makes a forgivably stupid teen mantra) set to beautifully arresting dissonance. On a lilting note, "Same Song" ponders why faces turn green, why fake love prevails and why skin and fingers digest so easily. The Archies it ain't. A stately "Postcards & Moonrock" and somber "You Bore Me" broaden pimply angst to a maturation point way beyond the bandmembers' years -- which, at last count, wouldn't get them served in a stateside bar. By the time they unknit their collective brow with "More Salt" and pig out on the curious savories of "Doggy Fudge" (a U.K. delicacy), they've more than demonstrated their love for ax, glorious ax!
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Who knows if borrowing Uncle Sam accents to bitch about being young in today's suburban Greenwich is something Americans can relate to? But lest we forget: Our nation's Liberty Bell -- symbol of independence and Ben Franklin's shattered psyche -- was cast in England. It broke. We got the Beatles. Then the Clash. Now this? At least it's not another bad reset of Morrissey at a bullfight.